Teacher asks court to toss child-porn case

By Carol Sowers
The Arizona Republic
Dec. 14, 2002

GLENDALE - Defense lawyers for a Cortez High School teacher accused of possessing child pornography asked a judge on Friday to dismiss the charges on constitutional grounds.

Robert Wooten argued that sentencing under Arizona's law, the toughest in the nation, amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.

Sentences in Arizona range from 10 to 24 years on each count and must be served consecutively.

Wooten told Judge Ruth Hilliard of Maricopa County Superior Court that if his client, Morton Robert Berger, 51, is convicted on all 35 child pornography counts, he could be sentenced to 840 years in prison.

"And that is just for looking at a picture of a child," Wooten said. "He never touched a child."

Lisa Parsons, a Maricopa County prosecutor, said, however, that Berger didn't just "look at pictures.

"He saved them and put them in three-ring binders."

Still, Wooten said, defendants convicted of touching a child get lighter sentences.

Texas has the second-toughest law, with sentences of 2 to 10 years. Some states consider the crime a misdemeanor.

But Parsons said the Legislature imposed such tough penalties to protect children.

"Arizona's is the most severe," she said, "but not unconstitutionally severe."

Hilliard, who has not ruled, suggested in Friday's hearing that the difference between the Texas law and Arizona's is a "quantum leap between punishments."

Other lawyers have also raised constitutional challenges to the law. Possession of child pornography charges were dismissed against one defendant in June, when Judge Stephen Gerst ruled that the law is vague about what constitutes child pornography. Gerst commented on the law's sentencing ranges.

" . . . A 26-year-old person may be sent to prison for the rest of his life . . . for 12 clicks of his fingers on a rented computer," Gerst wrote.

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